"It" by Stephen King (1986)
"Beverly screamed. The clown had left off its antics when Ben moved his hand. It rushed toward them, its paint-bloody mouth gibbering and laughing. Bill winced back but held onto the book just the same, thinking it would drop out of sight as the parade had done, and the marching band, and the Boy Scouts, and the Cadillac convertible carrying Miss Derry of 1945."
Carrie, The Shining, Christine, Pet Sematary, The Dark Tower... everybody knows Stephen King, so there's no need to go into the details of his long (and profitable) career. Sure, his books don't seem to exercise the power over the popular imagination they once did, but he's still a big deal just the same.
His enduring popularity aside, I've haven't read any Stephen King in several decades. I've seen the movie adaptations of course, but prior to starting It I hadn't read one of his books since I was in high school.
I suppose I just needed a break. I can remember reading The Stand, Misery, and many other of his works back then, but by the late 80s/early 90s he was starting to seem old fashioned compared to edgier/more obscure writers like Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft.
At the time my biggest complaint about King was that he often seemed to stretch a story that should have been 200 pages into 400 pages, drowning interesting concepts in a sea of unnecessary detail and character development. "Keep it simple, keep it pure," was my thinking back then, and with a few rare exceptions Stephen King's books seemed to do the opposite. In this respect The Stand was the last straw for me, being as it is a bloated corpse of a book, burdened by chapter after chapter of unnecessary exposition.
But, like many people, years later I saw It: Chapter One and It: Chapter Two in theaters. And, like many people, I loved the first one and thought the second was just OK. The movies renewed my interest in Stephen King. I'd never read the novel, and it seemed like a good way of reappraising the author.
The verdict? The book is a lot better than the two movies. I'm not trying to put down It: Chapter One when I say this - it was quite possibly the best horror movie of 2017 - but considered alongside It: Chapter Two the book tells a much better, much more cohesive story.
One reason for this is plot structure. Another reason is the fundamental difference between movies and books. A third reason is related to content which couldn't be incorporated into the film.
The movies are fairly linear. It: Chapter One takes place in the 80s, and It: Chapter Two takes place in the 2010s. This is a change from the novel, in which the first conflict with It takes place in 1958 and the second in 1985. It made sense for the movies to move the events forward by a few decades, given that the change makes it easier for viewers to relate to the characters. The years in which the book sets the same events isn't all that critical to the story.
In both the book and the movies a group of seven individuals contend with It, or Pennywise the Clown, two times - once when they're children and a second time as they're approaching middle age. But in the book these two conflicts are described alongside one another, with events in the past echoing forward into the present and vice versa. This adds a lot to the book's conclusion, in that both the first and second confrontations occur at the end of the novel. In the movies these conflicts are presented one after the other, and this not only makes It: Chapter Two seem repetitious, but also makes it difficult for the viewer to connect both movies together into a unified whole.
Could the films have told the same story in the same way? Maybe, but that would have made for a much longer venture, something more like a TV series. This was done back in the early 90s, but as I haven't seen the TV series I can't comment on whether it was successful or not.
There's also the matter of Derry's history. The novel goes to great lengths to present the depraved doings of Derry's earliest residents, and it's this backstory which contributes a sense of dread to the book. The movie tries to incorporate some of this history, but in six hours including all of it would have been impossible.
Last of all there is a sexual undertone present in the novel that just isn't the sort of thing large scale Hollywood productions do. I'd rather not go into detail with regard to this sexual undertone - I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it - but let's just say that the kids found in the pages of King's novel are a lot more ready to "explore" in a number of other ways. There's no way any wide release movie is going to show (or even hint at) little kids doing or thinking those kinds of things.
All of the above said, I think the two movies were successful in artistic terms, and director Andy Muschietti should be congratulated on his achievement. It's just that the book is a really, really complicated affair, and there was no way to do it complete justice in movie form.
Check out the book if you enjoyed the movies - just be warned that it's long, and requires a fair amount of concentration. I think it's one of the best things King ever wrote, maybe the best thing he ever wrote. It might even be the Great Expectations of his extensive bibliography.
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